Underpaid athletes losing out during COVID-19 cancellations

On March 11, Rudy Gobert was the first professional athlete in North America to test positive for COVID-19. That night, the NBA announced that they were postponing their season. The next day, the NHL announced that their season was on pause, MLS postponed games, MLB cancelled the remainder of spring training and pushed back opening day by two weeks. Leagues all around the world followed suit. 

Cancelling games for the time being is the course of action supported by medical professionals to limit the spread of the disease. That being said, athletes are going to lose money, and it’s not players like Rudy Gobert who are going to struggle.

The NHL announced that they’ll be paying their players their last cheques as if the season were occuring, so they’ll be fine. The NBA will be paying the players what they are owed as of April 5, but haven’t confirmed anything after that. NBA players make, at minimum, over half a million dollars a season. 

It’s athletes who play for leagues with lower minimum salaries who are going to suffer amidst these cancellations. The MLS season was supposed to begin last week, but officials say it could take at least a month before things get back to normal. There are MLS players who earn millions of dollars, but the lowest paid amongst them but there are some who take home less than $100,000 yearly. 

It gets worse for women and players in the minor leagues. It’s no secret that MLB leaves much to be desired when it comes to the treatment of their minor leaguers. Broken down, a triple-A baseball player makes less per hour than most people would working their minimum wage summer jobs. This leads to players taking on debt and relying on friends and family for financial support and even shelter. 

The fact of the matter is that these athletes don’t know when they’ll be able to play and they don’t know when baseball is going to provide them income again. Without many answers, minor leaguers are taking on side gigs and moving back home. One player, who started working for DoorDash, as reported by ESPN, earned twice as much delivering food as he did playing baseball. 

NHL hockey players are being paid through to the end of the season, as are those playing for farm teams in the AHL. The NHL and the AHL have only postponed and paused their seasons, but the ECHL has flat out cancelled the rest of its season. ECHL players are already in precarious situations, and most of them take on jobs in the offseason. The best deals in the ECHL don’t net more than $25,000 for a 26 week season. 

Athletes competing in women’s sports are already pretty used to having to supplement their incomes. For most women’s hockey players in the NWHL, the season was over by the time leagues were cancelling games. Only one game remained to be played and it was their Isobel Cup final. The highest paid player in the league receives $25,000 per season, which is guaranteed. The NWHL also has a 50/50 revenue split with the players and with the Isobel Cup final being cancelled, they’ll be losing out on income in that regard. 

The NWSL (national women’s soccer league) has pushed back the beginning of their season. Women’s soccer players are usually able to make a living playing soccer, provided they play year round. Since the NWSL season is in the summer, many players go overseas in the offseason. The same is true for WNBA players who earn at minimum, $58,000 per season and at maximum $215,000. These players are facing another challenge, they’re struggling to even get home from European leagues. 

Athletes coming out of college and junior leagues will also suffer by missing out on playoffs, which was for some, a final opportunity to impress professional scouts. This is not even to mention the thousands of arena workers losing out on part time work and the members of the media who are being laid off. 

There are more important things than sports right now, at the end of the day it is just a game. It is, however, a game that pays the bills for a lot of people.


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